Village Fair in the Reclaimed Area of Sunderbans

Gautam Kumar Das

Our village fair is remembered for a few eventful turns like selling of ghugni (pea curry), secretly handing over of billet–doux to the young wife of cobbler by Tapan, owner of a grocery, and competition of tubri (kind of fire-work). Fair of village lasts hardly four days. After fair is over, the fairground once again filled with darkness, leaving the fireflies with the liberty of flying. This type of village fair in the reclaimed areas of the Sunderbans is simply different from the fair of the other part of Bengal. The fair lacking circus, baul songs, luck-try, magic performance, stall of established vendors or businessman from the other areas is supposed to be only due to lack of easy transport and communications for network of rivers, creeks and other tidal inlets. Fair in our childhood consists of small shops of stationery goods, toys and balloons, ready-made sweets, tele bhaja and ghugni (pea curry), ice creams etc.

Once upon a time Paran suggested me on the day before the commencement of one such fair for selling of ghugni in the fair ground as in his words, it was very much profitable. I was then a student of class eight, Paran was in class six. I assisted with the finance to that ghugni project with all of my savings totaling rupees ten. Paran purchased pea and other spices and prepared ghugni in our kitchen and filled entire pea curry in a big vessel. He sold ghugni pouring in the cut-out banana leaf as a plate and a small piece of palm leaf as spoon. Any way when we recovered the capital invested for the preparation of ghugni after selling of half of its quantity contained in the vessel, we decided not to sell remaining part of ghugni any more and went out of the fair taking the ghugni-vessel along with all other friends. We shared all of its residue and the ghugni was really delicious and spicy.

The price to obtain common items such as papad, pea curry (ghugni), ice creams, locally made cakes etc in the village fair was fixed for years, though no price list or catalogues was displayed in the temporarily fixed shops or stalls in the fair ground and nobody was appointed for price-control on behalf of the fair committee. We all enjoyed our favourite items available in the fair in the same price for the long period from primary to higher secondary stage of our studentship. Locally made crumpet was costly to us as its fixed price was twenty five paisa. Crumpet, a soft cake of flour, egg, milk and small pieces of green gourd (chal kumra) baked on an iron plate at the local baking mill stood at the bank of Hetania Doania at Namkhana. Ice cream (malai baraf) mixed with the coconut dust were available at the price of five naya paisa (ordinary) and ten naya paisa (special) respectively. We bought all those items with the fixed price as they were locally made and the sellers had no reputation or influence over the fair committee. Both buyers and sellers belonged to the same category of ordinary and common people. We along with all our friends moved talking with each other in and around the fairground irrespective of financial stability, dress-fashion, caste, religion or bars of other backwardness. Above all I recall being moved to the flash back, showing a village fair momentarily when the darkness in the night was lit with the light of hazak. In recent time entering into our village fair after a gap of more than four decades, on the occasion of Bisalakshmi puja festival, I stunned watching all of the changed items in almost all stalls from those of our boyhood. Pea curry, ice cream, vepu (play on a toy-trumpet) is replaced with the costly packet food items like kurkure, lays etc and battery driven toys. The fair ground is lit with the tube lights through hooking with well-connected wires from the fixed electric-posts sponsored by the state government. Several tea stalls in the fair make anybody understand that the inhabitants of the village are at present habituated with taking tea regularly. At the intermission of my thoughts, Shyamapada, my childhood friend, stands before me at a tea stall of an unknown owner where I am taking tea sitting on a bench. In company with me, he gives a candid explanation of his own prospects. Shyamapada, once frustrated with his longtime unemployment, now is a moderate rich person. He and his spouse are now teaching in the government primary school. Shaking my hand, Shyamapada said, ‘Those days are gone.’ Spurs tears at his eyes, the village fair united both the childhood friends after a long interval.

Sep 16, 2018

Gautam Kumar Das [email protected]

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